New EU Meeting Will Push For Europe-Wide Restrictions On Free Speech

Representatives of the world’s leading religions will meet with EU leaders on 30 May to discuss how restraints can be applied to free speech in order to protect religious feelings.

“As tensions can arise between the exercise of fundamental human rights and awareness of the feelings of others, it is worth reflecting on the role played by the concept of mutual respect,” said European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso.

A statement by Barroso, who will jointly chair the talks with Austrian Chancellor Wolfgang Schussel, said the meeting will be attended by Buddhist spiritual leader the Dalai Lama, together with Islamic and Jewish clerics and representatives of various Christian denominations.

The meeting has been prompted by the manufactured controversy over the Mohamed cartoons, and religious leaders are now trying to cash in on the advantage this brought them by demanding that there is some kind of Europe-wide restriction on disrespect for religion.

“What role can religious communities play in assuaging tensions that may arise? What can they expect from European institutions?” Barroso asked in his statement, reports the AP. Keith Porteous Wood is in contact with sympathetic MEPs in Brussels, discussing how best to resist the increasing clamour from religious sources for restraints on free expression.

Keith Porteous Wood, Executive Director of the NSS, who attended a meeting at the Council of Europe last week on the same topic, said: “The EU is playing a dangerous game in encouraging the idea that religious opinions have some special status and should be exempt from critical examination. We are flying dangerously close to the introduction of some kind of new Europe-wide equivalent of the blasphemy law. It seems, after all, that violence, murder and mayhem will eventually get you what you want.”

Meanwhile, the NSS council and some members played a prominent role in a freedom of speech debate at the AGM of Liberty last week. An NSS member’s motion to renew Liberty’s commitment to protect freedom of speech was passed. The NSS tabled a motion “This AGM believes that legal constraints on freedom of expression should be limited to public order and Article 10 considerations, calls for Liberty’s opposition to the blasphemy laws to be upgraded to an active campaign for their abolition, and opposes attempts by European bodies to criminalise disrespect for religion where, if adopted, the provisions could apply to the UK.” It drew warm applause from the Liberty members and was remitted to their Council. The motion was moved by Keith Porteous Wood and seconded by Council member Anna Behan.

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Flemming Rose, the Danish journalist who published the Mohamed Cartoons, got a rough ride on the "Today" programme this morning in a rude and aggressive interview by Sarah Montague.